Rethinking hajj obligations: Tasks for govt (1)

Hajj. Photo; .timeinc

Hajj. Photo; .timeinc

IN rethinking Hajj obligations with regard to Nigeria, one is constrained to ask whether the Nigerian government has really been making it possible for the right and eligible set of Muslims to perform Hajj.

The Nigerian Government has continued to facilitate the Hajj performance of most of those who are less eligible while making it tougher for those for whom Hajj is the next religious obligation.

In Islamic jurisprudence, the performance of any major religious obligation is contingent upon the fulfillment of certain conditions. Such conditions are normally tied to the Maqasid al-Shari’ah i.e. the Shari’ah-based rationale for the performance of such obligations.

For instance, sanity and maturity are among the conditions for salat, sound health and stability are among those for fasting, attainment of nisab after the deduction of liability is a condition for zakat while physical and financial means are among the conditions for Hajj. The physical and financial means conditions for Hajj are central to the considerations expected of the Nigerian Government, even though the Saudi Government, too, has some share of blame concerning the physical means question, in connection with the Jamaraat.

Nigeria has always accounted for almost half of the entire population of the annual pilgrims being catered for by the Saudi Hajj Office covering the category of countries where Nigeria belongs; where no fewer than 30 countries are involved including South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Namibia, Kenya, Botswana, Mauritius, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Ghana, Togo, Republic of Benin, Ivory Coast, Guinea and others.

For instance, from 46,984 pilgrims in 1984, the population rose to 81,267 pilgrims in 1994 and 109,143 pilgrims in 2004 and above 200,000 in 2015. Although this figure becomes insignificant when compared to that of India, the number of whose pilgrims reached 346,323 between 2012 and 2014 with another 95,490 pilgrims from Indian Private Tour Operators.

The Nigerian Government may want to monitor the huge “returns” that are normally offered by the various airlines and major service providers involved in Hajj operations. Such returns, which are given by the airlines as a token of appreciation to those who facilitated the business or contract for them, run into an equivalent of several millions of Naira and, unfortunately, go into private pockets of few individuals.

The government may now begin to appreciate the need for a national carrier. Through such an arrangement, a round trip ticket for the Holy Lands may just cost an intending pilgrim about One Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira instead of the standard rate of about Three Hundred Thousand Naira.

Such huge sums that surreptitiously changed hands are also involved in accommodation arrangements for Nigerian pilgrims in Saudi Arabia. Rather than allow such practices to flourish unabated, the government may want to channel such returns to the area of subsidy and financial affordability of Hajj performance.

Rather than continuing on the deceitful path being trodden by some phoney State Hajj operators who would announce their governor’s “generous donation” to the pilgrims, at a strategic stage of the pilgrims’ stay in the Holy Lands, say shortly before departure for Nigeria (by which time most of the pilgrims would have exhausted their finances), the government may tread the honourable path of declaring what subsidy it is capable of providing.

The Hajj subsidy may cover expenses incurred on air passage, feeding, local transportation in Saudi Arabia, and accommodation. Unless there is a quick rethink over the exploitative nature of Hajj-related expenses of common Nigerian citizens, the government may be regarded as an accomplice in the “crime” of exploiting the unsuspecting poor pilgrims to pay the sufficiently remunerated Hajj officials thereby subjecting the common man to more abject penury. The government should also put in place measures for possible sanctioning of errant Hajj officials. Whatever subsidies Muslim pilgrims are given should be extended to their Christian counterparts in equal measures.

There is growing concern among Muslims over the status and classification of pilgrims from Nigeria where a significant part of the annual Hajj allocations are either shared as political booties or compensations or used to earn goodwill and build a new political empire for a benefactor. Dr. Abubakr Aliagan of the University of Ilorin recently writes of several implications of the politicization of Hajj allocations in Nigeria and articulates “the fact that many married women whose husbands are generally unemployed and could not afford the fare, became targets of the politicians in their selective choice of the sponsorship spree” (Hajj Sponsorship, 2011, p. 3). However, this view about married women on Hajj seems true but ostensibly lopsided and conjectural in nature as it captures just the popular thinking about Hajj on the streets of Nigeria. Yet, even if one fails to favour the appreciable perspective offered by the author, one certainly cannot totally rule out the existence of the dimension of the Hajj-related corruption that he seeks to expose, especially at state level given that the national hajj coordination enjoys some degree of sanity and is not as porous.

Such experience represents a departure from the Islamic teachings and principles on Hajj. The concept of Istita ‘ah which constitutes the main condition for the performance of Hajj is of primary concern to us. Istita’ah is a technical term that means ability, means or affordability in connection with Hajj. In other words, unless a Muslim has the means to perform Hajj, is able to perform it and can afford to perform it, he is not expected to proceed to the holy lands for that purpose. The concept of istita’ah and its implications have received adequate attention in the juridical analyses of notable Islamic legal schools of thought none of which favours the idea of going on Hajj by one who cannot provide for both his own upkeep in the holy lands and the living expenses of his immediate family or dependants at home.

In Nigeria, the involvement of government at all levels has eroded the Islamic rationale for the ideals of Hajj as some of those who fail to meet the condition of istita’ah go on Hajj and keep going every year while some of those who have the means are oblivious of the fact that Hajj is a religious obligation that requires a Muslim to commit his resources as they, too, go and even keep going at the expense of the government.

• To be continued tomorrow.
Dr. Rufai is the Ag. Dean, Faculty of Education, Sokoto State University.



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